Liverpool great Fowler's coaching baptism as A-League kicks off

Sydney (AFP) –


Robbie Fowler's first season as a coach gets underway this weekend when Australia's ailing and expanded A-League kicks off, with the Liverpool great keen to stamp his mark on a Brisbane Roar side that struggled last year.

While Fowler was briefly player-coach of Thai club Muangthong United, and has worked extensively at Liverpool's academy, he has no other senior coaching experience.

But he knows the A-League well after spells with North Queensland Fury and Perth Glory at the end of his playing career and described himself as a "good, reliable, safe option" when he was appointed.

Nicknamed "God" by the Anfield faithful, Fowler has already tasted success, helping the Roar win the pre-season Surf City Cup, ahead of Glory and the Newcastle Jets.

Their attacking flair in that event bodes well for the new season and a tough opening game away against last year's runner-up Perth.

"We can still iron out a few things, but for the most part I thought we were good -- it's a good little victory," Fowler said of the Cup win.

"We have got plenty of character and plenty of good lads who are willing to put a shift in," he added.

Fowler has a handful of fellow Britons in his squad, including former Birmingham City midfielder Jay O'Shea and towering centre-back Macaulay Gillesphey, who joined from Carlisle.

Brisbane finished ninth last year, above only basement club Central Coast Mariners, with Sydney FC clinching the title.

The defending champions open their campaign against Adelaide, who also have a new coach in experienced Dutchman Gertjan Verbeek, fresh from a stint at FC Twente.

Sydney boss Steve Corica has bolstered his squad with the signing of Socceroos defender Ryan McGowan and midfielder Luke Bratton, who has previously been on the books of English Premier League champions Manchester City.

Fowler and Verbeek are not the only new coaches, with Frenchman Erick Mombaerts taking the reins at Melbourne City and German Marco Kurtz -- formerly at Adelaide -- now at cross-city rivals Melbourne Victory.

The two Melbourne clubs face each in a blockbuster derby to open the season, while Western Sydney Wanderers take on the Mariners and New Zealand's Wellington Phoenix are at home to Western United.

- New direction -

This year's A-League has been expanded to include an 11th team -- Melbourne-based Western United -- with a 12th planned a year later in a bid to create new rivalries and opportunities for players.

Of the 12, three are from Melbourne and three from Sydney, with the prospect of more fiercely-contested derby games.

The A-League first kicked off in 2005 in an eight-team format and, while expanding, it continues to battle dwindling ticket sales and tumbling TV ratings, which some have blamed on mismanagement by Football Federation Australia.

In a extraordinary move in the off-season, club owners assumed majority control of the league from the governing body, giving them greater say over its strategic and commercial direction.

It followed months of intense negotiations with the FFA, which will instead focus its energies and resources on Australia's national teams and grassroots football.